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Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

Shorter stages expected to up excitement at Tour of Utah

Seven-day race kicks off with prologue TT. Queen stage up Powder Mountain set for Wednesday

The 15th Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah begins Monday with a prologue. The 5.3km course heads up Little Cottonwood Canyon before snaking around The Cliff Lodge, and then descending to the finish at Snowbird Resort. This is eighth time Snowbird has hosted a stage.

The big change this year is the timing of the queen stage, which in years past had come on the final day of the self-billed “America’s Toughest Stage Race.” This go round that distinction goes to stage 2, which culminates with the hors categorie ascent of Powder Mountain. All told this year’s seven-day affair features 37,882 feet of climbing.

VeloNews caught up with a handful of Tour of Utah veterans and team directors ahead of the race to hear their thoughts on this year’s route.

“I think the hierarchy will be set earlier with the prologue. Powder Mountain is probably one of the hardest climbs we do in Utah,” said Lawson Craddock (EF Education First), who’s racing Utah for the first time since 2013. “We have a really strong team, with Lachlan (Morton) and Joe (Dombrowski) who have both won this race… I think it gives us a lot of cards to play.”

Fresh off his gold medal time trial performance at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, Daniel Martinez (EF Education First) arrived in Salt Lake City fighting illness but was hoping the two off days would allow him time to recover. He was initially on the start list Sunday evening but later removed. A heavy favorite for the GC, his absence will certainly open up the GC battle.

Dombrowski, the 2015 overall Utah winner, agrees that Powder Mountain will be key to this year’s final outcome. “I haven’t ridden it but it seems pretty difficult,” he said. “The other days are all pretty short, which lends itself to aggressive racing. So you could also see changes.”

Israel Cycling Academy’s Ben Hermans is hoping to best his second place GC finish last year. The Belgian rider arrived in Park City 10 days ago, aiming to acclimate to the altitude before racing began. The former BMC team rider finished second last month at the Adriatica Ionica stage race in Italy.

“I think there are more stages where something can happen,” predicted Hermans. “It’s a little harder than other years. Powder Mountain is a brutal finish. By the third day I think we will know who is the favorite for the GC. I’m adjusted to the altitude, to the heat, also the jet lag is behind me, so I feel good.”

Serghei Tvetcov is a threat to wear the race’s first leader’s jersey. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

Racing his fifth Tour of Utah, Worthy Brewing’s Serghei Tvetcov can never be discounted in a time trial. The Romanian National TT Champion and multi-time Gila TT stage winner is expected to finish on the prologue podium, and is a threat to earn the race’s first leader’s jersey.

“You can lose or gain a lot of time in the prologue,” Tvetcov said. “It’s definitely going to be different than previous years with shorter stages. I think it’s going to be a really exciting race because [of the shorter stages]. There’s going to be a lot of action.”

Worthy Brewing sport director Gord Fraser admits predicting where the race will be decided is difficult. His squad boasts Travis McCabe, a four-time Tour of Utah stage winner and last year’s sprint jersey winner.

“There is always a surprise in a prologue of this nature, hopefully one of us can pull it off,” Fraser said. “Otherwise 90% of the race is climbing. All my guys look really fit and did their homework after their summer block to prepare for this race. Hopefully we can show our Worthy Kits in a winning way.”

The Tour of Utah and in particular, the climb up to Snowbird has also been a showcase for up and coming riders wanting to attract the attention of WorldTour teams. In 2017, this year’s Giro d’Italia King of the Mountain winner Giulio Cicconi, won the queen stage in Snowbird and was later signed by Trek-Segafredo. Last season, two under-23 riders, Mexican Luis Villalobos, who won the Best Young Rider jersey racing for Aevolo, and Belgian Jasper Philipsen, who earned a stage win in Salt Lake City for Axeon, both signed with WorldTour teams shortly after the race. Philipsen’s Axeon teammate, Michael Rice, will hope to repeat that trend this year.

“We’ve all been here training in Utah for a couple of weeks and I’m feeling pretty acclimated to the weather and environment,” Rice told VeloNews. “The stages are a lot shorter this year in general, with no queen stage up Snowbird. But it’s good to see that they have kept the prologue there, it’s a staple to the Tour of Utah. We’ve got a good list, we’re pretty excited to get on with the race.”